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FOOTBALL '98: VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY

Passing a Crowded Field

College football: Brady emerges as leader in competitive race for Northridge quarterback job.

September 03, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — The job is demanding, almost scary.

It requires replacing an All-American quarterback--a record-setting passer and five-star field general lost to graduation.

Not a picnic for the four Cal State Northridge players who answered the call to fill the void left by Aaron Flowers, the school's all-time best at the position and now a graduate assistant.

But Marcus Brady, Josh Fiske, David Lins and Mitch Ryerson looked around and said, "Why not me?"

After a close battle that started in spring workouts, Matador coaches recently looked at Brady and asked, "Why not Marcus?"

So Brady, a redshirt freshman who last year learned from Flowers how to make a run-and-shot offense click, has the task of ushering in Coach Ron Ponciano's era at Northridge when the Matadors open with a nonconference game at Division I-A Boise State on Saturday.

Ponciano and top assistant Jeff Kearin, who coaches the quarterbacks, said they picked Brady after his performance in intrasquad scrimmages.

"Marcus really separated himself from the pack," Ponciano said. "Those scrimmages really provided information for us we desperately needed . . . He put away our concerns. We knew he was athletic, but he showed he can make the right decisions."

Brady, 6 feet 1 and 185 pounds, is a graduate of San Diego's Morse High. He went to Navy but left after only a few days. His promotion to first string is not surprising because Matador coaches like his intelligence and versatility.

"I had my mind set after [last] season on becoming the starting quarterback," Brady said. "I've worked hard."

Coming out of spring practice, Fiske held the No. 1 spot, followed by Brady and Lins, a former Crespi High and Valley College standout. Ryerson, a sophomore transfer from Iowa State, arrived in the summer.

Fiske, 6 feet 3 and 205 pounds, is not pleased with his demotion. He started three games last year as a sophomore while Flowers recovered from a broken leg, passing for 839 yards and four touchdowns, and believed the job was his.

"Coach Ponciano told me it was my spot going into Boise State," Fiske said.

Fiske complained after learning Brady was the starter, but has since taken a different approach.

"The first couple of days I was upset, but I can't be upset anymore," Fiske said. "I have to be ready to step in if needed."

Ponciano said the decision to start Brady came after Northridge's first full-speed intrasquad scrimmage Aug. 22.

The coaches gave Brady a perfect grade in his decision making and a 91% rating in executing the offense. They rated Fiske at 44% in execution, worst among the four quarterbacks.

"I think we'd be a complete fool if we didn't look at the chart," Ponciano said. "The guy who executes best . . . is playing."

Ponciano said Fiske improved considerably in later scrimmages and likely will share playing time with Brady at Boise State.

"I think we'll play at least two quarterbacks," Ponciano said. "Don't be surprised to see three different guys."

That means either Lins or Ryerson will bring up the rear. Coaches are impressed with Ryerson's arm and decision making.

Lins, 6-1 and 180 pounds, is playing catch-up after sitting out last year. Ponciano said Lins had a great spring.

"That year off hurt me. It was a stupid decision," said Lins, who set several passing records at Valley in 1995-96. "Little things like the timing with the receivers. Hopefully, things will come back to me. I'm staying optimistic."

Ryerson, 6-2 and 215 pounds, went to Iowa State out of Fountain Valley. He was a redshirt in 1996 and did not play last year.

Whether Brady remains the starter or is replaced, the challenge for Northridge's quarterback is immense.

The Matadors last year led Division I-AA in passing at 358.1 yards per game and were fifth in total offense, averaging 456.7 yards. Flowers was responsible for virtually all of it.

Brady is not worried about the expectations.

"There's a little pressure, but I just go out there and do the best I can," he said.

QUICK HITTERS

Some facts you need to know about Cal State Northridge football:

* This is the third Big Sky Conference season for the Matadors.

* Boise State, on Saturday, is Northridge's only Division I-A opponent this year.

* The Matadors have six new starters on offense and five on defense.

* Ron Ponciano is Northridge's 10th coach since the program started in 1962.

* The Matadors are playing all home games in the afternoon.

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